Rep. Frank Wolf, advocate of ‘breaking radicalization,’ accused of defunding ’05 counterterrorism program

Last week’s Homeland Security Committee hearing on the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community — which Chair Peter King (R-NY) said repeatedly would be the first of many hearings on the subject, though no new ones have been introduced — was, as promised, a media circus and, as speculated, a circular conversation on whether or not the hearing should have been held in the first place.

In other words, not much was accomplished outside of tension-filled rhetoric.

However, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) did offer up a policy proposal. He testified before the committee on the need to curb Islamic “radicalization” in the U.S. and proposed that the government establish a panel of outside experts to bring “fresh eyes” to reports of domestic radicalization and counterterrorism strategy. “Team B,” as Wolf is calling it, would provide intelligence and law-enforcement agencies with supposedly objective evaluations of U.S. counterterrorism, as well recommendations to combat emerging threats. Wolf said he began urging the Obama administration to create this “Team B” group since early last year, but that the administration has not embraced his idea.

In light of Wolf’s proactive stance on curbing domestic and international terrorism, some organizations have come out suggesting that the representative had a hand in thwarting the implementation of a program introduced in 2005 whose intent was to improve collaboration between Muslim-American groups and intelligence agencies.

Indeed, Wolf told the committee an effective counterterrorism strategy was missing, saying, “We need a strategy which focuses not just on connecting the dots of intelligence, but which seeks to stay a step ahead in understanding how to break the radicalization and recruitment cycle that sustains our enemy, how to disrupt their network globally and how to strategically isolate them.”

Yet the proposal introduced six years ago, Partnering for Prevention and Community Safety Initiative (PfP), presented a strategy based on research and past practices that it could improve intelligence gathering. It follows a similar model as the Los Angeles-based Muslim Community Outreach Program established by L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose work was praised by representatives on both sides of the aisle Thursday.

PfP, which was developed in part by Deborah Ramirez, law professor at Northeastern University and a former U.S. Attorney, was never implemented, despite declaration of support from the FBI and a $1 million pledge to train agents on bridge-building techniques in the 56 field offices across the country.

Ramirez said the initiative would essentially set up a standardized protocol for how citizens and Muslim-American organizations should contact law-enforcement and intelligence agencies when they have information on a potential terrorist threat. One of the selling points of the initiative, Ramirez said, was that direct communication between the FBI and the Muslim community would be useful because those groups understand the “cultural and linguistic” context from Muslims in America and in the Arab world.

Ramirez said she worked closely with former FBI agent Michel Rolince, who at the time, expressed his support for the project, as did other agents throughout the country.

Rolince was not immediately available for comment but was quoted in a 2006 New York Times article saying: “We’re consistent in how we deal with white-collar crime and every other type of crime. When it comes to dealing with the Arab-American and Muslim community, we have no consistent program. We have 56 different approaches in our 56 different field offices.”

Initially, Ramirez said the FBI backed the program and agreed to fund it with an initial $1 million; the project was expected to cost $6 million over three years, according to the NYT, but in October 2005 it was scrapped. At the time the FBI cited funding reasons.

This week the blog Political Correction, a project of Media Matters Action Network, quoting an unnamed source, blamed Wolf for canceling the funding for the program:

Steven Emerson, the anti-Muslim entrepreneur best known for claiming that the Oklahoma City bombing showed “a Middle Eastern trait,” had heard of PfP. … As he saw it, the organizations that supported the PfP were Islamist in nature and could not be trusted. According to a former FBI agent who worked closely with the program, Emerson’s objections were odd given that he was never briefed on the specifics of the program.

On his organizational website, Emerson alleges that PfP was “unwittingly assisting the radicalization process” and was doomed to fail because “Islamist groups in the Ramirez program strongly oppose any personal direct contact with FBI and federal law enforcement, whether initiated by the FBI or a member of the Muslim community.”

Emerson, determined to kill PfP, turned to his friend Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which controls the Justice Department’s (and FBI’s) purse strings. Soon after, funding for the program was rescinded. According to FBI officials, the decision was partly due to a funding issue. The money, a paltry sum by the standards of counterterrorism, was no longer there. If the community wanted to go forward with the initiative, they would have to self-fund it.

Hassan Ibrahim, professor of the University of Maryland-College Park, who was also instrumental in the development of the PfP, said he and Imam Mohamed Magid of the ADAMS Center in Virgina, went to Wolf in the fall of 2005 and asked him to support the project, selling the value of engaging the Muslim community on a national scale as a form of prevention of a September 11-style attack. Ibrahim told The American Independent that Wolf did not address the proposal and instead discussed his past efforts to engage the Muslim community, in the U.S. and in the Middle East.

Wolf’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Ramirez said her plan is continually introduced, particularly when new terrorist threats, such as the Christmas Day bomber, come to light. But she said it’s been difficult to introduce this policy in the current national climate.

“We have said the problem is Muslims and we’ve asked them to trade in their civil rights for our security,” Ramirez said. “We need to separate Islam from Muslim violent extremists. Until we do that, we can’t begin to establish a process of community engagement [and encourage Muslims] to respond appropriately to international and domestic situations.”

“Frank Wolf is not the enemy,” she continued. “The enemy is Islamophobia. Instead of having a name-calling event about whether Muslims have or have not done as much as they could have to thwart terrorism, the question should be: What do we have to do as a country to thwart terrorism? What does the official architecture look like?”

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